Your baby in utero: The movie

Doting parents -- and antiabortion activists -- coo over nonmedical "4-D" ultrasounds. (Doctors, not so much.)

Published June 28, 2006 4:00PM (EDT)

When it comes to documenting a child's life on film, camcorder-happy parents-to-be can now get a pretty serious head start. As you may already know, facilities with names like "Womb With a View" and "A Peek in the Pod" are springing up around the country to offer nonmedical high-resolution "4-D" ultrasounds -- called "keepsake" ultrasounds -- of bouncing babies-to-be in utero. (The fourth "D" is time: The parents watch the lil' squirt move on a screen and are then sent home with both a scrapbook of glossy photos and a DVD.) And as the Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported, the medical establishment is not exactly cooing over this development.

Why not? Well, the paper's not precisely sure. As the Inquirer notes, "The FDA has issued a blanket statement warning pregnant women against keepsake fetal videos, stating in part that the agency 'views this as an unapproved use of a medical device.'" Both the Food and Drug Association and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine are mainly concerned with lack of regulation, but the AIUM seems to go slightly farther. AIUM president-elect Joshua A. Copel, also a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine, said that (as the Inquirer paraphrased it) "while there were no confirmed biological effects on pregnant women from exposures to ultrasound equipment, the possibility existed that effects might be identified in the future."

"There should be some medical benefit to ultrasound. I tried very hard to find a way to justify it," Copel told the paper.

Me, I've got mixed feelings all around. On the one hand, these medical concerns are maddeningly vague. (On a bad day, you could even see them as yet another danger-lurks-at-every-turn warning from the Department of Paternalism.) Still, I get why the FDA or its peers can't come out with clear flags waving -- for either side -- without knowing exactly what they're dealing with.

As for the folks who are profiting here -- some of whom tout miracle bonding experiences with baby -- no one's charging that they're not trained or qualified. (They generally demand documentation of sufficient prenatal care before waving the magic ultrasound wand, though no one, except possibly our litigious society, requires that they do so.) And bottom line, they make their customers happy; can't argue with that. (I mean, this stuff looks cool. Google and you'll see. By comparison, seeing routine sonograms at your doctor's office is like watching Disney's "Fantasia" on your great-aunt's rabbit-eared black-and-white Magnavox.) Still, part of me cannot help thinking: "Man, do we need another way to a) fuel our culture's [and parents'] baby-mania and b) separate doting moms-and-dads-to-be from their money?"

There's also this point, not mentioned by the Inquirer: Antiabortion activists think this stuff looks pretty cool, too. Several Web sites I peeked at tout stills from these videos (and in some cases, videos themselves) as "proof" that abortion is wrong. Interestingly, some of the fetuses in these images look a lot farther along than images of the same weeks' gestation on strictly medical sites.

Neither this, nor the specter of danger, seems sufficient reason to outlaw these outfits. It is, after all, a free 4-D country. But given the choice, I think I'll stick with my great-aunt's TV.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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